By Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved the appointment of former House Speaker Richard Corcoran as the next state education commissioner.
Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes attorney who served as a Republican House speaker from 2016 until last month, will succeed Pam Stewart, a veteran educator who has led the Department of Education since 2013. Stewart will step down on Jan. 8.
The appointment of Corcoran, who has scant education experience but a lengthy political resume, was all but assured when Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis announced his support for the former lawmaker. As speaker, Corcoran made a top priority of expanding charter schools and using voucher-like programs to send students to private schools.
“Richard will be a bold leader committed to the success of students, parents, and teachers,” DeSantis said in a congratulatory tweet on Monday.
Corcoran has clashed with the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union. In part, he backed a law that will force local teachers’ unions to disband if their membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent in the collective-bargaining process.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said he was “disappointed” in the state board’s decision but is hoping for a more “collaborative” relationship with Corcoran. The union has invited Corcoran to visit schools to see successful programs, which Corcoran said he would like to do.
“If you don’t bring all stakeholders to the table, then our children are in the balance,” Ingram said.
Ingram said teachers want Corcoran to address issues like the amount of testing students face, class sizes and the need to recruit and retain teachers.
“The fact that he is not an educator doesn’t mean he can’t do the job. But he’s got some learning to do,” Ingram said.
Corcoran said he is a strong supporter of traditional public schools as well as being an advocate for “choice” programs like charter schools and vouchers.
He said his initial agenda as commissioner would mirror policies outlined by DeSantis in this year’s gubernatorial campaign. The priorities include the expansion of vocational and technical programs, curriculum improvements, revising education standards and making sure 80 percent of education funding is spent in classrooms.
“Those are bold, optimistic visions on (the governor’s) part. I share it,” Corcoran said.
He said the expansion of alternative education programs, such as charter schools and vouchers, would also be part of his and the new governor’s agenda.
“I think that wherever we can expand choice, as Gov. DeSantis has said, and it’s forensically proven to be an uplifting, tremendous outcome for the children, we’ll say it today. We’ll say it tomorrow. We’ll say it forever,” Corcoran said. “The whole focus is on giving every single child the opportunity at a world-class education. They deserve no less.”
Under questioning from board members, Corcoran explained his relationship to the charter school movement.
His six children attend a charter school in Pasco County that focuses on a “classical” education, including Latin, Greek, rhetoric and logic classes. His wife, Anne, who is an attorney, helped found the school. But he said neither he nor his wife have any financial interest in the school.
His brother, Michael, is a lobbyist for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
Most of the testimony during Monday’s meeting at the Capitol was in support of Corcoran’s appointment.
But Catherine Baer of Common Ground, an education advocacy group, urged the board to conduct a national search before making a decision on the new commissioner.
She also said the expansion of charter schools, which serve about 10 percent of Florida’s 2.8 million K-12 students, has created “a parallel” education system that is not helping the neediest students.
Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Corcoran’s appointment, said a national search was not necessary, noting similar searches resulted in hiring two commissioners who each lasted a year or less before Stewart was hired in 2013.
Wilson said outgoing Gov. Rick Scott was “right” about hiring Stewart, and DeSantis is “absolutely right” in recommending Corcoran’s appointment.
The details of Corcoran’s start date and his salary will be worked out in negotiations with Marva Johnson, chairwoman of the Board of Education. Stewart is being paid $276,000 a year.
—- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.
To Richard Corcoran,
As soon as you are in place as the Commissioner of Education please review Leon County’s High School Graduation rates with a special review of the number of high school students withdrawn to home school. In addition, please review the practice of Godby High School putting most students into AP History to avoid having students take the state social studies test. This practice may cross the line to fraud with district officials part of a conspiracy to perpetrate fraud to increase the school grade.
Richard Corcoran is an excellent choice. He is all business. Contrast his approach with James P ” Rocky’ Hanna. I do not think Mr. Corcoran would ever be as professionally unethical as to put together a notebook filled with false information to try ruin a person and mislead state and federal authorities. Rather than hide sexual misconduct like what Ms Graham did concerning Rocky Hanna, Richard Corcoran opened an investigation when issues came up. Time for corrupt unethical Hanna to step down before he is investigated. He will only be investigated by FLDOE because the Leon School Board continues to empower a superintendent who has a proven track record of unethical behavior, who is also a known bully given that his “hit list” has become publicand was used to hurt named individuals both personally and professionally. Welcome a new education sheriff to Tallahassee. Time to act on the corruption that is within eyesight of the Florida Department of Education.
Rocky & the teacher’s union must be mad as a hornet’s nest at this appointment.
Does Leon County Schools still pay a portion of the salary of the president of the the Leon County Teachers Association? Why does the school board not seek reimbursement from Rocky Hanna when he admitted to the school board attorney hehad no knowledge of a wrong doing but he purposely mislead state and federal authorities? If someone caused a $600,000 investigation and it was proven they (Rocky) lied to start the investigation, why is the community not in an uproar? We need Richard Corcoran to act when our school board will not.
Doing a search for the right person for the job is ok…as long as you hire someone committed to charter schools, and vouchers for private schools giving parents a choice to move their kids to a better performing school and holding failing schools accountable. Hiring someone with this mindset is more important than anything else, or nothing will change. When you hear anyone say an “education background” is needed or they’re disqualified means they are against giving you the choice to give your child the best education you can find, and want to keep all the controls in administration. Educators in administration do not want to lose students to private schools…even if they’re getting a poor education, because they would lose some of their funding.
It would also be great to have 80% or more of school funding spent in the classroom, and less on administration. Does anyone know what the current ratio is?
The Commissioner of Education position which draws a $276K paycheck should have a national search conducted to find a qualified person with education background and not a politician who is receiving political payback.
Rocky Hanna should have disclosed the truth that he purposely mislead the FBI costing taxpayers over $600,000.
Pam Stewart and the Leon County School Board turned a blind eye to the unethical behsvior and conspiracy that brought Mr. Hanna into office. I hope Mr. Corcoran looks into every detail and construction deal of the Hanna administration. Did anyonge get “favors” for the forced use of Acaletics math that D and F schools used and paid over $30,000 per school? How about the lack of leadership jamming iReady down the throat of teachers. Go Corcoran, Go!
Leon voters should put the Superintendent position up for a votefor an appointed Superintendent but the political machine that is behind the corruption of Rocky Hanna would not allow it. A national search for Leon Schools will not happen as long as Hanna controls the School Board and he is allowed to use “hit lists” to get rid of people.
This should serve notice to Rocky Hanna that school failure, or rather your failure of instructional leadership along with the lack of understanding that eminates from your political appointees Gillian Gregory and Alan Cox have failed. Mr. Hanna you have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars with your admitted politically driven proven false notebook designed to”dirty” up the former superintendent. We all hope that the Commissioner of Education opens an immediate investigation into your unethical behavior as an educator, your denial of charter schools and your “hit list”.